While the following article was written over thirty years ago, at the height of the ecumenical tide (remember COCU?), it still has relevance and the points Bro. Martin makes still apply. In recent years the Councils of Churches have fallen on hard times, and seem to have receded in influence. However, many denominational emphases seem to originate with the NCCC staff, and are then passed on to Districts and Congregations. BRF believes that the Church of the Brethren would be better served to be a member of the National Association of Evangelicals–if we must have formal ecumenical relationships. See Update on the Ecumenical Movement
Volume 2, Number 1
Part of the controversy in the present day theological “swirl,” centers around certain institutions. One of these is the National Council of Churches of Christ in America. Perhaps a quick glance at this controversial issue allows the casual observer to believe there are as many shades of belief as there are people ranging from one side of the spectrum to the other. However, upon closer study, it soon becomes evident there are some rather well-defined lines drawn. It is not popular to criticize or question the current trends of the day, especially when to do so runs counter to the majority position. It must be recognized in all honesty that not all critics of current trends in theology and church life are self-righteous bigots, just out to tear down and wreck havoc in the kingdom. There are intelligent, Biblical, and even logical deductions that need to be looked at by all ere we buy a bill of goods and later discover the “idealism” of the position will not stand up under the judgment of God nor meet the needs of a dying humanity. This issue of THE BRF WITNESS speaks to this current problem facing Christians today. We believe the facts presented are basic in helping anyone to make a proper appraisal of this controversial dilemma.
Why We Oppose Affiliation with
the National Council of Churches
by Harold S. Martin
Many of us who are members of the Church of the Brethren, believe that it is unfortunate that our denomination became affiliated with the National Council of Churches. We have a number of reasons for this conviction and it is our purpose to point out some of these reasons. We intend to make no slurs. There is to be no name-calling and no leveling of charges of “Communism.” We do not charge that the NCC is a Communist organization. While there are spies, subversives, and traitors in our country–we believe that the majority of American people are honest, sincere, loyal citizens, earnestly seeking the best for their country. Neither do we question all the activities of the NCC. There are very few who criticize the NCC’s relief and rehabilitation program, the ministry in national parks, and certain other projects that churches do together. But there are a number of aspects of the NCC’s program with which we sincerely disagree.
We want to present the facts and arguments courteously, without any intent to misrepresent, misinterpret, or smear those who disagree with us. We hate sin, not sinners. We hate apostasy, not apostate leaders. We hate Communism, not Communists. We acknowledge the sincerity of those who differ with us, and we ask for ourselves the same consideration and courtesy which we gladly accord to those who disagree.
1. The NCC is not primarily a spiritual organization.
It is the primary business of the church to attend to spiritual matters, to present Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour that men and women will be converted and equipped by the Holy Spirit for every good work. Those who are brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ then become “salt” in a decaying society and “light” in a dark world. On the other hand, there are many–and they largely control the philosophy of the Councils of Churches–who feel the Church is called to enter the world and exercise political and other pressures to transform society without necessarily redeeming the men who compose the social order.
We believe the primary concern of the Church should be the care of souls, not the winning of elections and the implementation of social legislation. When certain men tried to “involve” Jesus in economic matters, He said, “Who hath made me a judge and divider over you?” Jesus came for another purpose–to give His life a ransom for many and to make atonement for sins. While He healed, comforted, rescued, and even raised from the clutches of death–it is impossible to escape the obvious fact that His primary purpose had to do with man in his relation to God. The implication that Jesus Christ supports Federal Aid to Education, for example, approaches blasphemy. Jesus and His disciples did not seek to function as a pressure group for political, social, and economic action.
Our Lord never commissioned the Church to improve the social order by leading social reforms, conducting sit-ins, marching in the streets, launching emergency peace campaigns, equalizing wealth, or eliminating poverty. Rather, He commissioned His disciples to preach the Gospel–and the Gospel message is a message to the individual. The Parable of the Prodigal Son tells about the rejoicing of God over one sinner that repents. The ethics of the New Testament are individual ethics, e.g., “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” The Gospel invitation is given to the individual, e.g., “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man open the door.” Salvation is individual; the Holy Spirit does not inhabit a church or a group, but the individual. Society will change only as its men are changed. We cannot change the social order by changing its laws without changing its men.
The NCC is concerned primarily with seeking to mold and influence politics, education, and economics. Its leaders advocate the passage of bills by Congress which have little if any religious content. One cannot help wondering whether the NCC is a religious organization minoring in politics, or a political organization minoring in religion. Anyone who desires, may obtain from the central office of the NCC, a list of all pronouncements, statements of policy, and resolutions issued since the Council’s organization sixteen years ago. A quick glance at these will reveal the alarming extent to which they are weighted with political, economic, and social issues–and how little there is of redemptive, evangelical content. The NCC pronouncements differ very little from the statements of many secular organizations that speak in these fields, except of course that they bear a Christian label. This preoccupation with social relevance has led to a serious neglect of the Gospel of salvation for the individual.
The NCC is the product of a legitimate movement which was originally intended to bring a united Christian witness in the world. But the Council has become, not a group of churches working together to win men and women to Jesus Christ, but rather it has become the most powerful political-action organization in the United States, claiming to represent between thirty-five and forty million Protestants. The NCC promotes programs dealing with affairs of this life (poverty programs, artificial birth control, socialized medicine, etc.), while neglecting the weightier matters of the next life (sin, atonement, conversion, the new birth, etc.).
2. The National Council of Churches’ Activities and Publications Lean Toward the Political Left
We recognize that the NCC has no “theology” of its own. But the basic principles and ideals held by its advocates, and reflected in its literature, are a cause for concern. The general direction of the whole movement is on the side of liberal (neo-liberal) theology, and is hostile to the evangelical faith. The NCC supports causes and promotes purposes which are not in harmony with Biblical teachings. Apparently its most influential leaders have strong convictions with reference to social action, but lack corresponding convictions with reference to the essentials of the Christian faith itself. Note the following examples:
(1) The April 26, 1963 issue of Christianity Today says, “Meanwhile in New York, the NCC issued a press release which concludes that in most people’s minds there is no longer any conflict between the teachings of the Bible and those of Charles Darwin on man’s origin. The release cited weekly NCC telecasts ‘which accept and explain the theory of evolution.’ It said that heavy mail from viewers shows that ‘scarcely one in a thousand still finds any conflict between the Darwinian theory and the Book of Genesis.’”
(2) The November 7, 1965 issue of National Radio Pulpit, produced by the Broadcasting and Film Commission of the NCC, says: “What about hell? What’s happened to the fires which preachers used to threaten the wicked? What’s happened is that most of us are now quite unwilling and unable to say that God chooses to send of His creatures to a place of endless and limitless torture . . . So (hell) is not a place He sends men to, but a condition that they choose.”
(3) In a special issue of The International Journal of Religious Education, the official publication of the Division of Christian Education, NCC, Gerald A. Larue says that the message of the Bible is merely “the witness of a writer at some point in history. We need not agree with what he (the writer) says, but we can appreciate his point of view.”
(4) An editorial in the February 15, 1963 issue of Christianity Today reviews the pamphlet published by the NCC for the United Christian Youth Movement. The booklet is entitled, Called to Responsible Freedom: the Meaning of Sex in the Christian Life, by William Graham Cole. Editor Carl F.H. Henry says of this pamphlet, “In some respects it might even be considered an invitation to sexual promiscuity . . . It deplores as Pharisaic those who would impose any rules whatever upon sexual mores.” The NCC-published pamphlet says on page 10, “What justifies and sanctifies sexuality is not the external marital status of the people before the law, but rather what they feel toward each other in their hearts.” The implication is that sex need not be controlled by divine laws, but that the only test for moral conduct is love.
While it is true that the above statements are not necessarily official doctrines of the NCC, it is equally true that these teachings are unashamedly tolerated. This raises the question in the minds of many, “Is there any such thing as heresy any more?” The NCC refuses to label as heresy the denial of many cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith; in fact, it seems that the only belief now considered heresy, is nonecumenicity.
3. The NCC is an Organization Preparing The Way For a Superchurch
The NCC (and the WCC) deny aspirations to become a world church, but certainly they are preparing the way for this. We are not saying the WCC is a superchurch, but it will eventually lead to one. Many of its leaders believe that when its work is done, it must disappear as a fellowship of churches, in the creation of the one great world church.
Dr. Douglas Horton (chairman of the committee which drafted NCC’s first official pronouncement back in 1950) said: “The members of the various groups . . . were actually, under the guidance of the Spirit, becoming members of a world church, itself in process of formation” (The Coming World Church, by James D. Murch, Back to the Bible Publishers, p. 16).
On page 58 of the official WCC publication, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, prepared for study before the New Delhi Assembly, we find these words: “The churches have created the WCC. They have created it so that one day they might dispense with it. The WCC lives to die. If the Churches ever become content with it, or concerned soley to perpetuate it, then they will be disobedient to the heavenly vision.”
W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft says in the September 9, 1964 of The Christian Century, “The WCC as it is today is only an instrument of Christian unity. It must disappear in its present form when the unity of the Church becomes a reality. In the meantime much remains to be done. What else can one expect when one recalls that the Council is not yet twenty years old? The time is hidden in the wisdom of God when the whole flock will be gathered together under one Shepherd. All we need to know is which way we are going.”
Statements like those just quoted concern us. The Archbishop of Canterbury, after the Second Session of the Vatican Council, voiced what seems to be the feeling of many churchmen, when he said that the logical head of the world church is the Pope of Rome (The Sword and Trumpet, 4th Quarter, 1965, p. 36). If the WCC were able to attract the Roman Catholic Church into its fold, as it did the Russian Church, the stage would be set for a world church. Those of us who read the Bible with a strong belief in its literal interpretation, see just such a one-world-church predicted in Revelation 17. We also read in Revelation 18 a strong appeal to come out of corrupt religious Babylon, to escape her doom and destruction.
There is peril in believing that there is strength in numbers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Any Sunday School pupil can tell us how God divided the troops of Gideon until He had only a handful left. Then with that unimposing group, He won a great victory! Our world is not going to be changed by a superchurch! It is going to be influenced, as it always has been, by ordinary men who are made extraordinary by the Spirit of God.
4. The NCC Often Speaks “TO” The Churches And Not Necessarily “FOR” Them
The executives and staff members of the Council (along with certain chosen “experts”) usually plan the programs, pull the strings, and issue the directives that ultimately affect the lives of millions of people. And in very few cases do the member denominations themselves have anything to say about the avalanche of materials that are issued by its boards and agencies. Anyone familiar with the deliberative processes of large assemblies, knows how much is prepared in advance, and how little is actually done on the floor of the assembly. The actual control of the Council rests in the hands of a comparatively small group who work between the meetings and behind the scenes.
Frequent pronouncements are made in the name of the affiliated churches, but such pronouncements often reflect only a minority report. The Buck Hill Falls meeting (Christianity Today, June 6, 1965) supplies an illustration of this: Dr. O. Frederick Nolde called for the cessation of bombing in Viet Nam as a calculated risk, and he also advocated the inclusion of Red China in the United Nations. This statement had already been released to President Johnson and other high government officials before the Buck Hill Falls Conference, with the intent of influencing United States policy. Behind the statement lay, supposedly, the weight of many churches. But since no meeting of the WCC had take place since the statement was formulated, and since the statement had not been officially adopted, it could hardly be called representative of the opinion of the churches constituting the WCC. Indeed it was nothing more than a committee speaking for itself in the name of churches that had no chance to vote on the statement.
Furthermore, the NCC increasingly provides leadership which the churches follow. Comprehensive planning is often done on behalf of the churches, in such areas as curriculum development and lesson programming. The NCC (instead of being merely “an agency through which the Churches can accomplish that which they can do better together than alone”) is becoming a policy-making and program-planning source of guidance, information, and leadership–and thus it often determines important matters on behalf of the churches.
The laity in the American churches are not asked for opinions in most matters. They are precommitted by powerful ecclesiastical leaders, operating in overlapping committees at an ecumenical level, and church-members often learn of such ecclesiastical involvement after commitments have been made, and can no longer be easily reversed. The NCC pronouncements are not submitted to the members of the constituent churches for approval before being announced to the public. Therefore these views cannot possibly express the views of millions of members who are given no opportunity to express their opinion. Many of us are convinced that the overwhelming majority of Christians in America do not approve of the NCC leadership’s proposals to get the Church involved in political, economic, and social issues, in the name of the Church.
The work of the Councils of Churches is, to a great extent, the business of theologians and church leaders. As one Finnish ecumenical spokesman said recently, “The ecumenical leaders are generals without armies.” There seems to be a great divorce between the thinking of many of our ecclesiastical leaders, and the believer in the pew.
5. The NCC Is Not Really A Cohesive Power Within Christendom
There is much dissension in the Church because of the Councils of Churches, and sometimes life-long friendships have be wrecked. Some are withdrawing from their local congregations; many are withholding funds; others are seriously considering what they ought to do. The Church of the Brethren’s membership in the Council of Churches has precipitated discord and dissatisfaction throughout the Brotherhood. When one District of the Brotherhood came to the 1965 Standing Committee at Ocean Grove, NJ, for advice and counsel in dealing with a congregation that objected to our membership in the NCC, a number of Standing Committee members indicated there was a degree of dissatisfaction in their areas about this same relationship.
When the NCC makes pronouncements on current secular affairs, and urges churchmen to become involved in political matters, it becomes embroiled in economic and political controversy, promoting division where unite of purpose should obtain. The Messenger (June 9, 1966) says concerning the bitter fight between California grape-growers and migrant workers, “Last fall two visiting Catholic priests flew low over Delano vineyards, calling to workers to strike. The NCC formally endorsed the strike and telegraphed plans to member denominations to join in the pilgrimage to Sacramento.” In giving the reactions of members of the Church of the Brethren to this situation, the Messenger quotes Isaac Bashor saying, “Our congregation, the Waterford Church of the Brethren, passed a resolution at the last council meeting which stated, ‘Unless the Council of Churches cease using their influence in favor of unions, we would ask to be relieved of membership in the Council.’ The Church has obligations to the moral and spiritual standards of our nation, rather than aiding the union to become more powerful.” Don C. Miller is quoted as saying, “I am so overwrought by the actions of the Migrant Ministry and the NCC and the California Council of Churches in regard to Delano, that I truly feel they are leading people down the road to hell . . . As for the whole community of Delano, and for that matter the whole San Joaquin Valley, a spirit of distrust, animosity, and disrespect has been engendered. . . . certainly all the churches in this area will pay dearly, and some will close.”
The November 25, 1964 issue of The Christian Century carried an article entitled “The Clergy-Laity Schism.” The writer says, “The political campaign of 1964 has seen the emergence of a fundamental split between many clergy, and many lay men and women . . . Among the laity in several quarters there has been a growing discontent about the clergy’s involvement in some of the social issues of our time.” The article later points out that the small vocal minority (those laymen who speak out on their convictions against clergy involvement), more than likely speak for a silent majority.” This is an admission that a majority of church members (though silent) are not in harmony with the affairs of the NCC and other similar organizations.
The NCC is not really a cohesive force within Christendom. It speaks out most frequently on secular affairs, about which there are many individual opinions, and thus it promotes disunity.
The foregoing pages explain some reasons why many within the Church of the Brethren are opposed to affiliation with the National Council of Churches. We grow increasingly impatient over the NCC’s political involvement, theological looseness, and evangelistic indifference. We crave clear-cut unambiguous answers to many questions. Is the Church’s primary task not that of proclaiming the Gospel so “That the world may believe”? Why do so many in the NCC stress social service, and leave men to die in their sins? Why do Churches within the ecumenical movement do nothing to silence the spokesmen for unbelief in their midst? Why are these men often granted places of leadership in the Councils of Churches?
The conservative has been written off as one who has no social conscience. He is sometimes labeled divisive because he opposes ecclesiastical leaders who think denominations are intrinsically evil. He is characterized as loveless. He is called a champion of the status quo because he fears that change in the direction NCC leaders are going, will lead to socialism. In the minds of some, we are like Brother I.N.H. Beahm used to say, “antiquated, dilapidated, and fossilized.” These convictions are very deep-seated and very real. To many of us this is a moral issue. We cannot contribute to a work we believe is contrary tot he spiritual mission of the Church, and detrimental to the cause of Christ.
The question is asked of us who hold these concerns, “Why then if you believe these things about the National Council, do you stay in the Church of the Brethren; why don’t you get out?” While it is true that those who object to our affiliation in the NCC are not agreed about what to do, many of as of now believe the following reasons are valid for trying to maintain a witness within the Church of the Brethren:
(1) I do not really consider myself a member of the NCC. I was forced into it. I had no chance to vote to get in. I had no chance to vote to get out. Suppose we take an unconverted man (one who has no interest in the Church, and no interest in the things of God) — but we drag him down to the river and force him to become baptized, and enroll him as a member of the Church. Is he a member of the Body of Christ? Is he a Christian? His name is included on the Church-roll, but is he really a Christian? Just so when we’re forced into NCC membership (but our hearts are not in it, and we vigorously object to it), I’m not too sure that we are really members of it.
(2) I have preached in Churches of the Brethren in many, many places. And all the way from Pennsylvania and New Jersey (to Florida and Tennessee) — in all these places, I never once was told what I must preach in the Church of the Brethren. Everywhere I went, I was at liberty to preach as the Spirit directed. We appreciate this great privilege and are grateful for it.
(3) The third reason has to do with giving. If we designate where our contributions are to be used, our designated wishes are always honored. I have met and talked with our Brotherhood administrators of finance (and although I disagree with them theologically), I’m thoroughly convinced that every cent you designate, goes to the place you assign it.
(4) The Old Testament prophets lived in a time similar to ours. Israel had strayed from the faith of their fathers; they aligned themselves with pagan nations around them; they adopted the idolatrous practices of heathen peoples — but God commanded the prophets not to withdraw — but to go to Israel and fearlessly preach to them (even though they were stubborn and not eager to hear). After all, these are the people that need to hear the Gospel.
(5) Revelation 2 and 3 give a brief history of the entire Church period. These chapters tell of the apostasy within the Church, and at least twice in these chapters we’re reminded that some inside the apostate Church, had not compromised their convictions. John says in Revelation 2:24 that some in Thyatira “have not this doctrine,” and “have not known the depths of Satan” (even though they were inside the wicked church). In Revelation 3:4, he speaks of those in Sardis. He says, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis (even inside this wicked church which he had condemned) which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”